TOMORROW’S LADBROKES Challenge Cup final will be the biggest day of Ben Thaler’s career – and he hopes nobody notices.
Thaler, from Wakefield, has been appointed as referee for the Wembley showpiece between Leeds Rhinos and Hull KR, but knows he will have had a good day if it is the players who make the headlines after the match.
“That’s what everybody wants,” said Thaler, who will turn 34 on Sunday.
“I hope it is a great game and Hull KR and Leeds put on a great show.
“Both teams have played some excellent stuff in the Cup this year and hopefully it’s a great game and a great advert for rugby league.”
The teams have been preparing for the final for more than three weeks, but Thaler, who was in charge of Rhinos’ semi-final win over St Helens on July 31, was only told of his appointment – his first major final – a few days ago.
He said: “I did the World Club Challenge, Leeds against Melbourne, in 2013.
“I’ve done a couple of Exiles games and some in the World Cup, but this will be the biggest.
“As a group – all the full-time officials – we all got taken into the boardroom. Then Steve Ganson [the former referee, now in charge of match officials] announced who had been appointed to what for the final.
“It was quite emotional, because it’s the pinnacle for anybody in rugby league to be involved in a final at Wembley.”
It has been a long road to the top for Thaler, who played rugby league as a youngster before deciding to take up the whistle.
“I played a bit at Normanton Freeston High School,” he said.
“I played in the same team as [Warrington Wolves and England forward] Ben Westwood.
“We took our referee exams at the same time and he did a bit of refereeing.
“Both my brothers played for Normanton and Adam went on to play for Castleford.
“I started in 1994, when I was 12, I refereed my first open-age game when I was 15 and I was fast-tracked from there.
“It’s a lot of hard work when you’re young and I have been Grade One for 14 years.”
He added: “I think I have refereed well the last couple of years.
“I have been trying to put my hand up and break into the top couple of referees and I’m pleased I’ve been able to do that.”
Despite the importance of tomorrow’s game, Thaler has no intention of changing his pre-match routine.
“It will be a normal week,” he said. “Someone said to me ‘you’ve got the final on what you’ve been doing, so don’t change anything’.
“I will prepare like any other game.”
Richard Silverwood, from Mirfield and Batley’s James Child will be tomorrow’s video referees.
Jonathan Roberts, from Batley, is reserve touch judge. He refereed the second half of Rhinos’ fifth-round win over Huddersfield Giants, after man in the middle Phil Bentham was injured